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Will the banana plague reach Latin America?

Since the 1990s, the Tropical Race 4 strain of Panama disease has been destroying banana crops around the world. The fungus (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense) operates as a soil pathogen, infecting the banana plant through its root system. It is easily spread through the transportation of contaminated dirt, and there is no known cure. Tropical Race 4 was first detected in Taiwan and has since spread across southeast Asia as well as northern Australia, Mozambique, Jordan, Pakistan, and Lebanon.

The fast and widespread progression of the disease has a historical precedent. In the first half of the nineteenth century, an earlier variant of Panama disease wreaked havoc on the export banana plantations of Latin America and the Caribbean, which were dedicated to the growth of a single species, the Gros Michel. After the near-extinction of Gros Michel, production shifted to the Cavendish, a more resistant banana. Representing 99% of the global banana market, the monoculture of the Cavendish renders the world’s supply of the fruit particularly vulnerable to diseases like TR4. TR4 has the potential to wipe out not only the Cavendish, but many local varieties of banana and plantain that are crucial to the diets of people around the world.

TR4 has not been detected in the Americas, but scientists warn that it is likely to disseminate further via the spread of contaminated plant material, soil, tools, or footwear. Should it reach Latin America, where at least 70% of the world’s bananas are grown, there is potential for a second global banana crisis.

By start of 2019, will a credible media report emerge that a case of TR4 has been detected in Latin America?

For positive resolution, the infection must be of a banana tree, and should include the reported (or implied) destruction of at least one banana tree in an effort to contain the fungus.


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